Guilty plea after Molotov cocktail damages federal building in Atlanta in 2020

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

A Virginia man has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his involvement in a 2020 protest, which included throwing a Molotov cocktail into the Department of Homeland Security field office in Atlanta while employees were inside, according to authorities.

On July 25 of that year, protesters gathered outside the federal building at 180 Ted Turner Drive, which also houses the local office for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a show of solidarity with protesters in Portland, Oregon. They were pushing back against the presence of federal agents in that city amid weeks of national unrest over racial injustice and the police treatment of people of color that flared up after George Floyd was killed while in Minneapolis police custody.

In Atlanta that night, a group vandalized the DHS building, causing at least $46,000 in damage, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It included a broken glass door, several broken windows, burn marks on interior walls and the building itself spray-painted, officials said at the time.

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

“The citizens of this district have the right to peacefully protest,” U.S. Attorney Ryan Buchanan said in a statement. “But those who exploit peaceful protests by committing acts of violence, like throwing Molotov cocktails into buildings where law enforcement agents are working, and destroying government property, must be held accountable.”

According to federal prosecutors, 29-year-old Richard Tyler Hunsinger, of Fairfax, Virginia, organized the protest, dubbed “Rally Against Fascism.” By 11:30 p.m., he and others — all wearing dark clothes and face coverings — breached a fence that was set up in front of the building.

At least two federal employees were inside when Hunsinger smashed at least four windows and then lit a Molotov cocktail and threw it through a glass door that had already been broken, prosecutors said. At the same time, others threw rocks, cinder blocks, modified fireworks that contained nails and more Molotov cocktails.

ExploreAtlanta ICE field office vandalized overnight, officials say

FBI investigators identified Hunsinger as the suspect by checking nearby hospitals for patients who arrived for treatment of lacerations after a large amount of blood was found inside the building, court records show.

One hospital confirmed that type of patient, and agents checked the hospital’s and the DHS building’s security footage to see if it was the same person at both locations, FBI investigators wrote in an affidavit filed in federal court. Agents then used social media, cellphone records and vehicle registration records to further confirm Hunsinger’s involvement after he and another person were seen driving by the DHS building the following day to record the damage.

Hunsinger pleaded guilty Monday to assault on a federal officer and destruction of government property, according to court records. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 19.

“We will do everything in our power to protect those rights (to peacefully protest). However, when a citizen decides to destroy government property, threaten other human beings with bodily harm and use explosive devices during a protest, their actions become criminal and therefore they must be held accountable,” Atlanta police said in a statement. “We hope this sends a strong message to others, that if you commit these types of acts during a protest, we will find you, and you will be arrested and prosecuted.”

The incident is among several recent crimes involving Molotov cocktails in the metro area.

An arson investigation was launched in May after someone broke a window at the back of a youth center on Atlanta’s Westside and tossed in four Molotov cocktails and an incendiary device. Earlier the same month, police arrested seven people at the site of Atlanta’s planned police and fire training center in DeKalb County after protesters threw two Molotov cocktails at officers, according to Atlanta police.